I have a theory. Happiness isn’t about the situation we’re in. It’s about how we see and feel about the situation we’re in. And this is awesome news. Because that part is completely in our control. Which means you don’t have to change your life to get happier—you don’t need a bigger apartment, more expensive shoes or a perfect relationship to be happy—you just have to change how you look at the life you already have. That’s what I call seeing life “bright side up” and in my new book, Bright Side Up, I offer one hundred ways to do just that. To get you started, here are eight ways to see your next situation from a better perspective so you can feel happier right now.
1. When you’re not feeling like your fab self … flip-flop it! My friend in Panama wanted to throw an elegant party, but he was afraid everyone’s high heels would ruin his newly re-done wood floors. So, he flipped the bad situation into a good one and threw a “chancletini” party—where guests would drink martinis while wearing flip-flops (called chancletas in Spanish). And it was a bigger hit than his other parties ever were! Guests wore the funniest flip-flops they could find and half of the photos were of people’s feet. It’s a good lesson: There is always another way to handle things by making a different physical, mental or emotional choice. Singleness, for instance, is also freedom. Loneliness is also time to think. Frustration at work is also passion—you wouldn’t feel this bad if you didn’t want it so much. Take your next flop and mentally flip it for yourself.
2. When your love life isn’t something to write home about … take the tourist’s point of view. Locals in London aren’t the ones posing for photos in the crosswalk on Abbey Road every day, right? They walk past it so often, it just doesn’t seem as special. That’s called habituation, and it happens in our relationships, too. But to a foreign tourist with a camera, your life is a total Kodak moment! So ask yourself this: “If I was giving a tour of my love life to some wide-eyed visitors, what would I show off?” If you’re in a relationship, look how cool it is that your partner cracks you up, is kind to your family, or brings up your game in Words with Friends. If you’re single, look how cool it is that you get to kiss anyone you want tonight, still get butterflies before a date, and your future is still a big, fun surprise ahead of you. To someone else, your love life is a dream trip come true. Remember how it can be for you, too.
3. When your Facebook friends’ happy photos are depressing you … see the grass is digitally greener. When I clicked through the photos my friend posted from Cabo on Facebook recently, I looked at my littered desk and kind of wanted to go all Dad-who-shot-his-kid’s-computer-over-a-Facebook-post on my own laptop. But then I reminded myself, as I am reminding you: It’s not real. The grass is no greener on your friend’s side of the Facebook wall than it is on yours. In fact, what you’re seeing is probably just a little Photoshop saturation that makes things look brighter than they really are! To feel better, make a mental list of what’s not in those photos: The long lines at the airport check-in. The flies around the fish tacos. The view of cranes building a resort next door. The stuff we put on Facebook is like the movie trailer of our lives: We only include the best shots. Real life is never that perfect. And, let’s be honest, that’s what makes it way more fun.
4. When you’re overdressed or underdressed at a social event … dress from the inside out. So you missed the memo about wearing dresses to go dancing and you walked in with Chuck Taylors and a ponytail. Well, dressing isn’t about the fabric draped on your body as how you carry it. It’s the attitude underneath that counts most. So if you feel uncomfortable, change your attitude outfit! Throw your shoulders back, lift your chin, smile, and think, “I’m glad I’m wearing this, and soon they will all wish they were, too.” Once you’re wearing your confidence, others will envy it. “Oh, this old thing?” you can say. “I was just feeling it, so I threw it on.”
5. When you hit a snag in your travels … plan your party story! When one bad thing happens in a day, it stinks. But when three bad things happen, you’ve got the makings of a really funny story. On it’s own, a cancelled flight or a hotel room overlooking the garbage bins stinks. Uh, literally. But together, it’s your own hilarious tale of Planes, Trains and Automobiles. So take notes, because the worse it gets, the funnier your story! And that’s true in our day-to-day life, too. After all, the best story isn’t about how someone had a flawless week at the office; it’s the one about trying to make the meeting after your water got shut off in the middle of your shower, construction closed the roads around work, and your heel broke running the final five blocks. When you’re ready to cry, think how much it will make others laugh. Your party story could be a hit for years to come.
6. When life’s annoyances happen … thank the lemons! You’ll never be able to appreciate the sweet stuff in life if you haven’t had some lemons. Think about it: You can’t truly appreciate a Smartphone if you haven’t spent hours tapping a text into an old-fashioned flip phone. You can’t savor a nice hotel if you’ve never stayed in a dingy one. And how could you value a wonderful, stomach swirling date if you’ve never had some clunkers? As bitter as they taste at the time, the lemons of life are good for us. So if you’re stuck in line with a slow cashier today, think to yourself, “Saaaa-weeeeet!” Because it’s just what will make you appreciate the better one tomorrow.
7. When your job isn’t going your way … put a bow on it for your future self. As annoying or tiring or defeating as work might feel today, think about the gift it’s giving to your future self. Because if you can’t see a benefit in your present, then you’re at least giving a present through future! Flubbing in the meeting today teaches your future self to prepare a little better next time. And dealing with an overbearing boss today teaches you patience and people skills your future self will need to kick ass and take names when you’re running things at the company someday. Every single thing you see, do, and maybe slip-up on is a lesson and a gift to the future you. So get a bag of bows and start wrapping.
8. When you’re in a slump … live 10 minutes in the life of the ideal you. I know how it goes: In your ideal life, you’re cooking Ina Garten recipes with fresh vegetables from your organic garden, doing the P90X every day, and practicing Spanish in Argentina. And in real life? Well. “The Real Housewives” marathons have to fit in somewhere, don’t they? Still, you can feel happier about the life you live now if you spend just ten minutes doing something the ideal you would do. Maybe you can’t plant an organic garden in your backyard (wait, what backyard?) but you can spend then minutes planting sage in the kitchen window. You can read eight pages of a great book, you can do crunches before you go to work, and you can practice ten minutes of Rosetta Stone for the day you finally make it to Buenos Aires. Take action that feeds your soul for just ten minutes a day and it’ll feel more like you’re living your ideal life instead of just dreaming about it.
For more ways to see life’s silver linings, check out BRIGHT SIDE UP: 100 Ways to Be Happier Right Now (Perigee), get the companion iPhone and iPad app BRIGHT SIDE APP for 365 days of optimism on the go, sign up for Amy’s weekly Vitamin Optimism email and visit her blog TheLifeOptimist.com. Follow Amy on Twitter at @datingoptimist.